Do You Really Know What Productive Work Looks Like?


Do You Really Know What Productive Work Looks Like?

Many of us have left the corporate world – or chose not to become a part of it in the first place – because we didn’t want to be told where, when and how to work. We knew that making our own decisions about how to get things done would help us work more effectively and make a greater difference in this world.

We all know that the 9 to 5 model is flawed and that forcing people to sit still all day in front of a screen will not make them more productive – rather the contrary. We also know that different people work differently. Some are morning people, perhaps even starting work before sunrise, while others are more productive late at night. Some work better in quiet, peaceful places while others prefer lively coffee shops.

Still, we can be quite judgmental when our team members, partners or suppliers work differently from what we perceive as the ‘right’ way of working.

Different strokes for different folks

When clean desk fanatics – those who actually believe the age-old slogan ‘a messy desk is a messy head’ – see a cluttered desk, they often draw the conclusion that the owner of that desk can’t be on top of their work. On the other hand, when members of the ‘messy desk party’ see a perfectly organised workspace, they might think that the people who work there must be overly structured, inflexible and uncreative.

As another example, when a team member goes for an extensive walk or bike ride during a busy day in the office, it might look like that person is way too relaxed about work, slack even. In contrast, when you see someone being constantly busy, you might assume that this person is in a squirrel wheel, working fast but taking no time to look at the big picture and innovate.

I’m not saying that these conclusions are always wrong. My point is that the types of work activities that happen in today’s business, along with people’s personalities, skills and backgrounds, are extremely diverse, and so we can’t describe what productive work must look like in a single-line formula.

Some people need clean desks, while others are more in tune with their work in a messier environment. Some people tend to come up with their best ideas through quiet contemplation, while others need to stay active, talk to people, do things all the time.

Nurture the diversity of your team

Having a diverse team is key for a business to stay competitive. But the more different our team members are, the more differences we see in the way they approach their work. And instead of suppressing these differences, we need to give our people the freedom to work in a way that works for them.

If your people produce excellent results, respect the fact that they may work very differently from you. And if their performance is not quite up to scratch, work with them to fix the real cause of the issue – it could well have something to do with their work habits, or it might be something completely different of course.

Either way, you can best support your people if you understand their work styles really well. In what sort of places do they work most effectively? Which tools and communication channels do they use most naturally? Which part of the day are they most productive? How long can they pay attention without taking a break? Do they work best alone or in a team? How do they recharge? Where do their best ideas come from?

Perhaps it’s time also to learn about your own work style?

And while you’re at it, you might also want to ask these questions yourself, and review how you could improve your own work habits. Most people believe that they know themselves really well in regards to how they work most effectively. But do your work habits really serve you? Have you perhaps inherited or copied some work patterns from others that don’t feel quite right?

Once you start exploring different ways of working, you might be surprised. Find ways you haven’t worked before, and test them out. Work in new places. With an unusual schedule. Use new tools. Collaborate with new people. And so on.

Not only will you improve your own effectiveness at work, but you’ll also grow your appreciation of the differences in the way we all work, and will be better able to support your team members to develop their own personalised strategies to make the most of their talent.

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